The Sound of Science - "Why So Many Geese?"

Aug 31, 2018

J: Welcome to The Sound of Science on WNIJ. I’m Jeremy Benson from NIU STEM Outreach, and I’m joined by Kate Powers.

K: Jeremy, I hear you have a question from Sara today -- one that is close to the hearts of all the staff, faculty and students at NIU.

J: Yeah, Sara wants to know: Why are there so many Canada Geese everywhere? They seem to rule campus and can be quite aggressive, chasing poor innocent pedestrians around the lagoon.

K: What a good question! I’ve wondered this many times as they harassed me. So I looked into this for Sara and the answer is pretty simple: We’re to blame.

J: Huh?

NIU STEM Outreach

K: Well, it is the perfect storm of humans trying to correct previous errors and developing the perfect goose habitat. It may be hard to be believe but by the first half of the 20th century Canada geese (and most other water fowl) were hunted to near extinction. As awareness of the environmental too began to grow, restrictions were put in place on the hunting of Canada geese and other birds.

J: So why did geese rebound in such an extreme way?

K: The answer to that is kind of strange. During the 19th and early 20th century Canada geese were captured and used as live decoys for hunting. These geese never migrated, so after many generations of residential life they lost the inherent urge to fly South. During the 1960s, in an effort to repopulate the geese, the government released these residential geese into the migratory population.

J: So, you are saying there are two types of Canada geese?

K: Yeah. They might mix due to geological proximity, but they rarely interact or interbreed. What’s more: The residential population is growing at a much faster rate. Geese live for up to 30 years, and suburban or urban ones not exposed to hunting or predators can live out their entire lifespan.

J: So our NIU lagoon is the perfect habitat for the Canada goose?

K: It sure is! Canada geese are some of the few birds that can eat grass. So big green lawns, no hunters and plenty of sleepy students to chase makes for happy, multiplying geese.

J: Well, I enjoy seeing them. But I also know it’s important not to feed the geese. It encourages aggressive behavior and isn’t very good for them. Thanks for all that info Kate! Keep your questions coming to stemoutreach@niu.edu . This has been the Sound of Science on WNIJ.

K: Where you learn something new every day.